“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Do you feel better after you take your dog for a walk or go for a jog outside? What about if you spend the afternoon at the beach or the lake? If you feel like being outside lifts your spirits and reduces stress, you’re not just imagining it. Research shows that spending time outside has numerous health benefits, such as relieving stress, reducing anxiety, and improving your mood.
In fact, according to a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of people who had walked for 90 minutes in either an urban setting or a natural one. They found that those who walked in the natural setting had less activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is active during rumination. Rumination is a type of cyclical thinking that focuses on negative thoughts and emotions. So, if you walk in a natural setting, you are less likely to ruminate on the negative things that are happening in your life. Another study found that people are more likely to have meditative-like experiences while walking in nature versus walking on a crowded city street. It’s clear that being in nature helps us reset and have a more relaxed disposition.
As you can see, there is a growing body of research on the benefits of spending time in nature. There is a name for this earth-centered or nature therapy, and it’s called ecotherapy. Ecotherapy, a term that was coined by Howard Clinebell, is connecting or interacting with nature for healing and growth. Doctors are even writing prescriptions for ecotherapy, to help ease depression, reduce anxiety, and to treat conditions such as high blood pressure.
The Importance of Getting Outside
This summer, I noticed the effect that not being able to go outside can have on a person. Of course, every summer in Phoenix is hot, but this summer Phoenix set a record as the hottest summer to date. The combination of an exceptionally hot summer with the quarantine really limited our summer activities. We were mainly at home. And by at home, I mean we were literally inside the house practically the entire summer. I noticed that being inside started to take a toll on me- I started to go stir-crazy. In addition, normally my husband and I take one overseas trip a year, but we had to cancel our trip this year due to the virus. Instead, we decided to go on a road trip to some beautiful places not too far away. Our main goal was to get outside and spend time together.
Being outside and enjoying the beautiful scenery every day really lifted my spirits. (Of course, I also had fun with my hubby hiking and then binge-watching a Netflix series at night!)
Stepmoms, if you’re feeling alone or depressed, just the simple act of getting outside and taking your dog for a walk in the park or going on a day trip with your partner can really make a difference in your health and well-being. Be intentional about setting aside time every day to get outside- even if you’re just spending 10 minutes lying in the hammock and looking up at the palm trees. Ecotherapy is often overlooked, but it is free, and you’ll reap the benefits almost immediately.